“There is no client as scary as an innocent man.” Michael Connelly – The Lincoln Lawyer –
I thought that since my prosecutor friends and colleagues are having a good time down in Jekyll Island, Ga for their annual conference, I could sneak this column in this week.
Alfred was a red meat, no mercy, law and order man. He believed that everyone who got arrested was guilty. He also believed that all criminal defense attorneys were below him. Somehow, his view changed when his oldest son was arrested for a very serious violent felony.
Suddenly, Alfred wanted to find the best criminal defense lawyer so that he could tell him or her about how his son was innocent and that the police must have everything wrong.
This change in attitude is actually very common.
It is difficult not to pass judgment when we see someone in an orange jumpsuit.
However, I would invite you to borrow the shoes of Alfred’s son. He was an executive at a large company one day. The next day, he was arrested for a crime that he was later exonerated of. That exoneration came after he spent two years in jail wearing jail issued shoes and waiting for the unknown.
Protecting people who have been accused of a crime has an honorable history.
In 1770, before our country was founded, British soldiers were charged with murdering five Boston residents in what became known as the Boston Massacre. Passions ran high against the British soldiers and few were willing to step to their defense. One who did was a prominent lawyer who skillfully and successfully defended the soldiers in the face of cries for mob justice.
He did not defend the British soldiers out of love for their cause. Rather, he defended them out of his love for the cause of justice and his fervent belief that anyone accused of a crime has a right to counsel.
Fortunately, the citizenry did not view his role as a defense lawyer in the Boston Massacre trials as being anything but an act of integrity. Just three months after he agreed to represent the British soldiers, John Adams was elected to the Massachusetts legislature. As a delegate from Massachusetts, he was a leading advocate for independence from Britain and assisted Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence. When the newly formed United States held its first election for president, George Washington was unanimously elected. Under the rules then in place, the recipient of the second highest vote, John Adams, became Vice President. He went on to succeed Washington to become the second President of the United States.
Today, criminal defense attorneys are acting in the best traditions of our Founding Fathers; like John Adams.
Unfortunately, some well known former criminal defense attorneys are not so proud of their former work and even perpetuate the myth that someone accused of a crime must be guilty.
When a presidential candidate attacked Hillary Rodham Clinton for defending a man accused of rape when she was a private lawyer decades ago, Clinton offered no response. In the past, when asked about having defended an alleged criminal, Clinton acted like a politician angry because research had just revealed an embarrassing moment from her past. She defended her role by noting that “when you’re a lawyer you often don’t have the choice as to who you will represent. And by the very nature of criminal law there will be those you represent you don’t approve of. But, at least in our system, you have an obligation. And once I was appointed I fulfilled that obligation.”
A man who was one of our Founding Fathers, unlike Clinton, did not hide behind a legal obligation when later discussing his role as a defense lawyer. Rather, he said, it was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”
Some of our public servants provide the worst and most inaccurate message to the public as well.
When Tim Kaine ran for office in 2016, he was blasted because he “has a passion for defending the wrong people” and that “long before Kaine was in office, he consistently protected the worst kinds of people.”
I wonder how many of these folks would have the courage to look John Adams in the eye and make such statements.
When it becomes acceptable to assume that everyone who happens to get arrested is presumed guilty and those who defend them are subject to verbal attacks and fail to forcefully respond, our Constitutional Republic has truly lost its way.
This can be averted by thinking about what it is like to walk in the other man’s shoes.